Technology Today

2011 Issue 2

Raytheon Delivers NextGen Weather Demonstrations to the FAA

The goal of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Next-Generation (NextGen) Air Transportation System is to address the needs of the aviation industry for increased capacity, safety and efficiency. This includes the demand for air traffic services to provide accurate and timely weather information at the temporal and spatial scales required by aviation decision makers. Since weather accounts for 70 percent of air traffic delays in the U.S., improving information about weather and weather impact is vital to meeting future demands for air travel. Similar challenges related to weather affect flights across the globe. As a world leader in air traffic control systems, Raytheon is focused on developing and delivering air traffic systems and products that significantly improve the efficiencies of the global aviation fleets. Doing so will significantly reduce the amount of fuel utilized by large aircraft, which also reduces the fleets' carbon dioxide emissions.

Figure 1 shows some of the elements of the air traffic control and weather data systems that will be integrated by NextGen to improve data collection, data fusion, conversion to knowledge and knowledge dissemination.

Figure 1
Raytheon's NextGen Weather Demonstrations

In support of the FAA's goal, Raytheon conducted demonstrations that illustrate how improved weather and weather impact information will be conveyed to decision makers, including air traffic controllers and pilots. The data and information will ultimately be conveyed to systems connected via the FAA's System Wide Information Management (SWIM) system, enabling trajectory-based operations1. These demonstrations illustrate the visualization and decision support tools that will enable NextGen weather knowledge collection and dissemination.

Raytheon leveraged existing technologies from across the company for the foundation of the end-to-end demonstration. These include:

  • Universal Framework (uFrame™) is a data-agnostic services framework capable of ingesting, fusing and displaying a wide array of environmental data.
  • Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) is a replacement for the Automated Radar Terminal System. STARS receives radar data and flight plan information and presents it to air traffic controllers on high-resolution, 20 by 20-inch color displays, allowing the controller to monitor, control and accept handoff of air traffic.
  • Electronic Data Manager (EDM) is a light, portable touchscreen computer in the form of a kneeboard that provides the aviator with a global positioning system moving-map capability, the ability to read in sunlight, and Microsoft Windows® software to replace the current kneeboard. The EDM displays moving maps with aircraft position and waypoints — along with checklists, manuals and approach plates — in PDF format. It imports mission planning data, providing capability for calculations of weight, balance and aircraft performance.
  • Battle Command System is the primary air defense/battle management system for North American Air Defense and the U.S. Pacific Command. The interoperable, open-architecture air defense and command and control platform supports the U.S. and Canadian homeland defense and drug interdiction missions
Figure 2

Raytheon partnered with AirDat LLC to integrate data collected with its Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Report (TAMDAR) weather sensors and advanced atmospheric modeling capabilities. The information was translated through Raytheon's uFrame system and conveyed to STARS to provide environmental impact areas for route planners in terminal radar approach control facilities. Similarly, the information could also be conveyed to Raytheon's state-of-the-art air traffic management system, AutoTrac III2. The environmental data and impact information, including reports and alerts, was conveyed to the cockpit via the EDM. Figure 2 depicts this prototype end-to-end solution.

The TAMDAR sensors were deployed on more than 300 commercial regional jet aircraft to allow collection of higher resolution atmospheric information. This information was transmitted via Inmarsat communications links to the AirDat facility, where it was used to seed an advance atmospheric gridded forecast model. Environmental impacts to aviation were calculated within the uFrame system, following the ingestion and registration of disparate data types, including the AirDat gridded forecast model. These impacts to aviation were provided to STARS as AVOI3 regions and indicated on the STARS air traffic control display. Environmental impact areas, along with satellite and radar imagery, were provided to EDM as geographic image files. In addition, extensible markup language (XML) structures and Open Geospatial Consortium-compliant services were stood up to convey aviation impact area knowledge to other systems. Examples of the rendering of these impact areas are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

The programs that will benefit from these demonstrations and the development they represent include the NextGen Weather Processor and NextGen Network Enabled Weather program under the direction of the FAA, and the 4-D Weather Data Cube under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with close alignment to the needs and requirements of the FAA. Raytheon's approach and the underlying technologies being developed will support the needs of these programs and will help the FAA and NOAA achieve their goals.

By equipping fleets internationally, AirDat data and resultant modeling, coupled with Raytheon's automation systems, can be used to more accurately forecast weather events that impact flight planning, resulting in increased efficiency and reduced delays. Furthermore, this information can provide real-time weather information in regions of the world where the data and forecasts are currently sparse or don't exist.


1The concept of an air traffic management system in which every aircraft that is operating in or managed by the system is represented by a four-dimensional trajectory providing separation, sequencing, merging and spacing of flights based on a combination of their current and future positions. It operates gate-to-gate, extending benefits to all phases of flight operations.

2AutoTrac III features a new generation of flight and surveillance data processing systems to ensure the safety of air traffic. The system's modern, open architecture design and high performance is fully adaptable and scalable to fit any air traffic management environment, from simple tower automation to a fully integrated multi-center system.

3The means by which an airspace volume is designated and shared among systems. AVOIs (airspace volume of interest) may represent regions such as temporary flight restriction or special-use airspace areas.

4An open source virtual globe developed by NASA and the open source community for use on personal computers.

Paul Ackroyd, Bob Bowne

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